“Creepshow, 1982”

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“Come on Harry, the maiden fair waits for her knight in shining corduroy.”

To mark the occasion of the one-year anniversary of my association with Mark Jeacoma and his wonderful VHS Rewind! podcast and blog, I am adding a previous review I wrote for the 1982 horror anthology, Creepshow, and adapting it for this Vintage Cable Box review.  This was a movie I absolutely fell in love with when I first saw it on cable television in 1984.

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Creepshow, 1982 (Leslie Nielsen), Warner Bros.

It seems most movies these days are based around comic books and toys, but in 1982, the double-whammy collaboration of Stephen King and George A. Romero, produced the original comic-book adaptation, Creepshow, one of the great horror movies of the early 1980s. Inspired by Max Gaines and Educational Comics’ Tales From the Crypt, The Vault of Horror and later, Mad Magazine, Creepshow gives us five fun stories loaded with graphic violence and intended for adults only.

George A. Romero, best known for Night of the Living Dead, the grandfather of the modern zombie movie, had directed cult favorites, The Crazies, Martin, and Knightriders. King, reportedly a fan of Romero’s work, suggested they collaborate on The Stand and wrote Creepshow as a sample screenplay to see if the two could successfully work together. This was due to the disappointment he felt from Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of King’s The Shining.

Creepshow is an anthology of five stories about familial revenge, hapless hillbillies, a Tasmanian devil in a crate, the consequences of infidelity, and cockroaches (lots of freaking cockroaches!). What really propels the stories is a wicked sense of humor, dark comedy, and lots of gore. A great cast (Ted Danson and Ed Harris in early roles, Leslie Nielsen in one of his last dramatic roles, Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, and E.G. Marshall) round out the carnage, and though the film only earned modest receipts at the box office, it did very well in pay TV and home video markets.

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“Free to be you and me! It’s okay for boys to play with dolls!”

Romero’s lighting, use of shadow and bold primary color along with the continuity device of using comic book cells and the framing story of an abusive father and his sociopath son (played by Stephen King’s son, Joe) deconstruct the horror genre and places it in a post-modern context, much like Romero would do with Day of the Dead, the underrated Monkey Shines, and Tales From The Darkside (an anthology television series based, in part, on Creepshow).

Creepshow was followed by two lackluster sequels, Creepshow 2 in 1987 (based on stories, not a script by King), and the “unofficial” no-budget Creepshow 3 in 2007. Romero would later work with Stephen King for The Dark Half in 1993, but that film was shelved for two years due to Orion’s impending bankruptcy.

The entry was written prior to the beginning of my Vintage Cable Box articles to tie-in with the release of a VHS Rewind podcast with Mark Jeacoma and Chris Hasler that has still not seen the light of day.  I volunteered to edit the episode, and I am grateful to Mark for giving me the opportunity, but I think I cut too deep, removing a lot of the spontaneity that is a hallmark of that fine podcast.

Happy Halloween Everybody!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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“Halloween III: Season of the Witch, 1982”

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“It’s time. It’s time. Time for the big giveaway. Halloween has come. All you lucky kids with Silver Shamrock masks, gather ’round your TV set, put on your masks and watch. All witches, all skeletons, all Jack-O-Lanterns, gather ’round and watch. Watch the magic pumpkin. Watch…”

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Halloween III: Season of the Witch, 1982 (Tom Atkins), MCA/Universal

On many occasions in writing this column, I’ve had to go back and watch the movies I remember seeing on cable television just to refresh my memory, and recall certain items in the narrative. Some movies are more difficult to review than others, because while I can summon the substance of the plot, or perhaps my personal feelings at the time, I can’t remember everything. Nostalgia is key to this. Movies like All Night Long or Jinxed require this level of hand-holding to get the reviews written. A movie like Halloween III: Season of the Witch does not.

Watching it, you immediately understand the movie is not a direct sequel to the Halloween franchise. There is no Michael Meyers in a bizarre (not to mention disturbing) repurposed William Shatner Captain Kirk mask and mechanic’s jumpsuit dispatching horny teenagers with gusto. Instead, we get a kind of brilliant satire, not necessarily a spoof (in the Scream vein) but an ironic piece of gore burlesque about an evil capitalist who wants to use his Stonehenge-enhanced Halloween masks to rule the world. We’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Dependable genre movie workhorse Tom Atkins (Creepshow, The Fog) plays night shift emergency room Doctor Dan. He takes in a hysterical man who is clutching a mask (better that than a teddy bear, I suppose) and shrieking, “They’re gonna kill us!” which is not what you want to hear at the end of your shift. Atkins takes a nap. Meanwhile, a man in a trench-coat appears, enters the patient’s room and crushes the guy’s skull. This is enough to make people want to quit working in the medical field. Skull Crusher leaves the hospital, gets into his car, dowses himself with gasoline and lights himself on fire. Well, that’s peculiar.

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Kids, don’t try this at home!

A short time later, the deceased patient’s hottie daughter (Stacey Nelkin from Get Crazy) shows up to claim the body and fill our Doctor Dan in on some strange circumstances involving small-town Halloween mask manufacturer Silver Shamrock. Stacey and Tom masquerade (heh) as buyers so they can get a guided tour of the factory and do a little snooping.

They are captured by CEO Conal Cochran and his Stepford-style androids. He does what every bad guy in a movie does. He tells them his plan. Basically by putting microchips in his masks and promoting a “big giveaway” on television, and telling the children to watch the TV screen as a flashing computer pumpkin dances on the screen, the masks will cause their heads to explode in a mass of snakes and insects and bring about the resurrection of Samhain.

To save you a trip to the Wikipedia, the definition of Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year. I don’t know what this has to do with snakes and insects, but by this point I’m already swept up in the action. This is an unusual horror movie. According to my research, this movie was the first in a planned series of anthology episodes intended to cash in on the Halloween brand. While not an enormous success initially, the film was profitable, but not enough to continue with the anthology plan. It’s worth noting that the movie has a meta sensibility. While having a drink in a bar, Atkins notices a Halloween movie advertisement playing on the television.

This is such a fun, well-made movie with competent gore effects and a great mustache-twirling performance from Dan O’Herlihy as Cochran. Refreshingly, the ending is ambiguous with a desperate Atkins calling television stations and telling them to turn off the Silver Shamrock commercial. The image of Atkins goes to black as his echoing voice screams, “STOP IT!”. Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a clever suspense-thriller as well as a prescient comment on modern advertising.

Next up: Brimstone and Treacle starring Sting from 1983.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

 

“Nightmares, 1983”

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Cable television was a treasure trove of great horror movies in 1984. You had the old (Psycho, The Birds) and the new (Creepshow, Friday the 13th), something borrowed (Dressed To Kill), and something blue (Jaws 3D – because the water is blue, you see … ahem, moving on!). Occasionally, it can be a crap shoot. You’ll find a gem like The Sender, but then a movie like Nightmares will come on, and then you’ll shy away from anything else The Movie Channel has to offer, but don’t let that deter you. It was the mini-festivals and tributes to certain filmmakers that appealed to me and inspired me to make my own movies.

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Nightmares, 1983 (Emilio Estevez), MCA/Universal

“Terror in Topanga”

“Non-addicts cannot understand. Love, Lisa.”

Chain-smoking Cristina Raines runs out of cigarettes. I know how she feels. A chronic life-long smoker myself, I’ll actually leave the comparative safety of my home in the middle of the night, go up a block to the corner Rite-Aid, present my I.D. and get a pack of smokes. I can’t handle being without cigarettes. I’m aware of my problem and I know it’s wrong to smoke and bad for my health, so please, no judgments. Back to the story. An escaped mental asylum inmate wreaks havoc in the Canyon. Doesn’t anybody know not to live in California? It’s nothing but trouble. Against her non-smoker husband’s wishes, she drives off into the night looking for smokes. Bad move. This episode is based on an old urban legend, which I won’t spoil for anybody who hasn’t seen the movie. Suffice to say, it’s good scary fun.

“The Bishop of Battle”

“Try me if you dare.”

Emilio Estevez is a strutting video game hustler who listens to Fear’s “I Don’t Care About You” (a favorite of mine) on his vintage walkman. His game is something called Pleiades, an 8-bit Space Invaders/Galaxian knock-off, but his true passion is The Bishop, a three-dimensional maze shooter game, which he plays with aplomb, but he can never seem to get to level 13. His obsession with The Bishop gets him grounded, but he sneaks out and keeps playing the game. When he makes it to level 13, the arcade video game explodes and all of the silly, pre-X-Box avatars and sprites come to life and Emilio must fight them for real. This is a silly Tron-style Twilight Zone rip-off that is only interesting because of it’s dated appeal. Kids today!

“The Benediction”

“The well is dry.”

Lance Henriksen’s world-weary, alcoholic priest takes to the open road in a 1970 Chevelle after suffering intense nightmares, and the recent death of a child. He is soon menaced by a demonic pickup truck from Hell, with an upside-down crucifix hanging from the rear-view mirror. The symbolism of a demonic truck chasing an ambivalent priest is tantalizing, but the execution of the story feels like a muddled contrivance that recalls William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and Steven Spielberg’s Duel. Though, refreshingly, there is no explanation for why this is occurring, it isn’t enough to keep me interested despite Henriksen’s performance (easily the best in the entire film).

“Night of the Rat”

“I think it’s trying to tell me something.”

After a Poltergeist-like battle with kitchen cabinets and cans of food, shrill housewife Veronica Cartwright implores nebbishy, cheap husband Richard Masur to get an exterminator. The episode is called “Night of the Rat” so you can pretty much guess what it’s about. I can’t think of a more annoying couple than Cartwright and Masur, and here we have to spend a half an hour with them! The beast kills Rosie, the family cat. An old exterminator tells tales of a devil rodent that terrorizes the wicked, or something like that. This episode reminds me of Hammer’s House of Horrors, but the idea of a family being tortured by a giant rat makes me laugh, and then once you see the thing, it’s hard not to bust a gut! Oh, and evidently, it can communicate telepathically with children. God bless us, everyone!

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More proof of the dangers of smoking!

Nightmares was an obvious cash-grab after the unexpected success of Creepshow the previous year, but the movie didn’t start out that way. The episodes were originally shot as part of an anthology genre series for television (similar to Rod Serling’s Night Gallery) titled Darkroom, but were deemed “too intense” and graphic for regular viewing. When Darkroom was cancelled, these episodes were edited together into a feature film with added scenes of violence and language. The results are mixed, and unlike Creepshow, there is no thread or host segments to connect the stories.

“Terror In Topanga” and “The Benediction” are the best episodes from this misguided anthology. Cristina Raines was seen in Michael Winner’s goofy but fun 1976 Ira Levin rip-off, The Sentinel. Emilio Estevez was one of the founding members of the Brat Pack with The Breakfast Club and (ugh!) St. Elmo’s Fire. Lance Henriksen was in Near Dark and the TV series, Millenium. Veronica Cartwright appeared in Philip Kaufman’s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Richard Masur appeared in John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing. I don’t know what happened to the giant rat. It probably went out for a pack of smokes.

Next up: Halloween III: Season Of The Witch from 1983.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

Vintage Cable Box: “Swamp Thing”, 1982

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When I started writing reviews for the films which became the basis of this series, the original plan was to start with Rodney Dangerfield’s 1983 comedy, Easy Money, but after Wes Craven died, I thought it would only be fitting to pay tribute to one of my favorite horror film directors by looking back and trying to remember if there were any films he made that were shown on cable television during the time period Vintage Cable Box covers, and yes, there was Swamp Thing – a movie I truly adore.

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Swamp Thing, 1982 (Adrienne Barbeau), Embassy Pictures

“Everything’s a dream when you’re alone.”

Sultry government agent Adrienne Barbeau arrives in the Louisiana bayou to investigate Dr. Alec Holland’s (Ray Wise) experiments in bio-engineering with his sister, Linda. Holland has just made a major breakthrough. Louis Jourdan plays Arcane, a rival scientist who orders his men to attack Holland’s compound and steal his new formula. In the resulting firefight, Holland is contaminated with his formula and disappears in the swamp, presumed dead. Later, when Jourdan’s men try to kill Barbeau, Swamp Thing emerges to dispatch them.

Released a good three months before Creepshow, Swamp Thing adopts the same comic-book-with-a-movie visual sense, even down to the turning of pages and artwork panels for scene transitions. Craven’s screenplay is intelligent with a sense of humor and the performances (particular those of Wise, Barbeau, Jourdan, and Dick Durock as the titular hero) are wonderful. Based on Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s DC Comics series, the movie was made on an astonishingly low $3 million budget.

Henry Manfredini’s score recalls his work on the Friday the 13th franchise, with stings and twists, and Bernard Hermann-like trills. The editing is breakneck in the action sequences and appropriately slow in the more romantic and menacing scenes. The creature itself is a marvel, created by Bill Munns, who would also contribute ghastly creatures for The Return of the Living Dead. Swamp Thing is schlocky and pulpy, and pure fun to watch.

The early eighties was a time when filmmakers, presumably working on the edge of the mainstream, and outside of the borders of studio control, started getting bigger budgets. Wes Craven was primarily known for Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. Swamp Thing was his formal introduction to studio work. This was the same year Tobe Hooper made Poltergeist and George Romero made Creepshow, so a definitive New Horror renaissance had taken place.

SWAMP THING, Adrienne Barbeau, Dick Durock, 1982, (c) Embassy Pictures

Scream Queen Adrienne Barbeau appeared in John Carpenter’s The Fog and Escape From New York, and would later appear in Creepshow. Ray Wise would later star in Robocop and Twin Peaks (the television series and the movie). Stuntman Dick Durock appeared in the sequel, The Return of Swamp Thing and the spin-off television series, which ran for 72 episodes.

It’s impossible to estimate Wes Craven’s impact and influence on the modern horror movie. A creative thinker and intuitive director, Craven created intelligent horror movies that did not skimp on scares. After Swamp Thing, he would create one of the most popular franchises that rivaled only Jason in A Nightmare On Elm Street. The People Under The Stairs is my wife’s favorite movie of Craven’s. In 1996, he directed Kevin Williamson’s popular post-modern slasher movie, Scream, which yielded three sequels.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.

Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.